Caitlin O'Callaghan works with Dr. Brooks Crozier of the Biology Department doing microbial source tracking. They are developing a procedure to identify the source of a certain type of water pollution using gene segments. This type of DNA detective work has numerous potential applications.
Caitlin is from Altavista, Virginia. At the top of her long list of possible majors is biochemistry. She started her work with Dr. Crozier in her first year at Roanoke College through the URAP program. Along with taking classes, Caitlin runs her own laboratory experiments. She says, "My favorite moment was when I ordered new primers to amplify a gene segment using PCR, and I ran a gel of the product. Once I put the gel under UV light to see if the bands were present, all were there, and I was so excited! It meant the primers worked!"
Along with the thrill of a successful outcome are the inevitable failures. For a lab scientist, this is par for the course. It is rarer to have a sophomore with the experience that Caitlin has. "Working in lab has made me much more comfortable with equipment and different lab procedures. Through my research, I have learned a lot of things that have come up in biology class, and I get the opportunity to connect my research with my class-work. I have also had to do a lot of research in lab, so I have become much better at researching and reading scholarly journals. This has helped me in all of my classes when I have to write research papers." Caitlin was on the volleyball team her first year and is active in a number of ways on campus. "I definitely feel more involved at Roanoke College because I am doing research. Working in the lab provided a great opportunity to meet a lot of biology professors and other research students. Also, through URAP I am more knowledgeable of the research of other students in different departments. I enjoy learning about the work being performed in the other departments, such as chemistry and psychology." Caitlin definitely gets her hands dirty in her research. The specific type of pollution she and Dr. Crozier study is fecal pollution from different animals, and the jokes about this are endless. Caitlin takes it all in stride.
She has the following advice for high school students thinking about attending Roanoke College. "Roanoke College provides a lot of great opportunities for being involved in research. Through URAP, you can start working in a lab setting as a freshman, which is an opportunity few colleges can offer."